VERSE 38: This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us: Again, the verse is still referrring to Moses who was the church in the wilderness when they nation received the Law. Notice also that Moses was in the church in the wilderness.
Randy White at this point mentions that "there is a two-fold mistake often made by the use of the word church in this verse." Covenant theology uses this word to “prove” that “the church” has always existed, and thus mixes Israel with the church. Dispensational theology of the “normative” variety, that would be most evangelicals, ignores this verse by saying that it was just an assymbly in the wilderness and then argue that Mat 16:18 is prophecy about the actual church as we know it today and making no distinction betwee Act 2:47 or Act 5:11 or 2Co 1:1. The verses are obviously referring to different churches.
More Than One Church
Actually, there are four churches identified in the Bible and we also run into problems when we try to say they are the same.
1. The Church in the Wilderness (Acts 7:38) which is the church that had been called out of Egypt.
2. The Kingdom Church in the Gospels (Acts 2:47) all the way up to Acts 7ish. Prodominantly Jewish because there were some Gentile proselytes.
3. The Mystery Church revealed through Paul justified freely by grace. The Body of Christ (Col 1:18; Rom 11:25; Rom 16:25; Eph 3:1-2; 1Ti 1:15-16).
4. The Tribulation Church that will be made up of those who will seal their fates in their own blood by not accepting the Mark of the Beast which are made up on the congregations mentioned in chapters 2 and 3. They are those who will accept the Gospel of the Kingdom that will be preached again by the 144,000 (Mat 24:13-14).
VERSES 39-40: To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt, (40) Saying unto Aaron, Make us gods to go before us: for as for this Moses, which brought us out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. He is pointing out that even after coming out of Egypt, the continued to reject his leadership, and their hearts were turned back again into Egypt. His point is that they as a nation should not make that mistake again with Jesus.
VERSE 41: And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifice unto the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. As a result, they fell into idolatry.
VERSES 42-43: Then God turned, and gave them up to worship the host of heaven; as it is written in the book of the prophets, O ye house of Israel, have ye offered to me slain beasts and sacrifices by the space of forty years in the wilderness? (43) Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon. The end result was that their fathers strryed into idolatry. Stephen is apparently referring to Amos 5:25-27.
VERSE 44: Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as he had appointed, speaking unto Moses, that he should make it according to the fashion that he had seen. Now Stephen is going to jump in Israel's history to King Solomon. Remember that his who purpose is to indict the nation for their rejection of their Messiah in hopes of bringing them to national repentance.
VERSE 45: Which also our fathers that came after brought in with Jesus into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drave out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David; The thought continues in that the nation brought the tabernacle with them into the Promises Land. This verse is interesting because only the KJV interpretes the name Jesus. The others say Joshua. The same thing happens in Hebrews 4:8. The Greek word is a translation of the Hebrew Yeshua, and Joshua is the English translation from the Hebrew. Of course, some would say that the KJV translators were just translating what Stephen was really trying to say in that Jesus spiritually what Joshua did physically in brining them into the Promised Land.
VERSES 46-50: Who found favour before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob. (47) But Solomon built him an house. (48) Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, (49) Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? (50) Hath not my hand made all these things? This speaks of David, who had found favor with God, desired to build a permanent and grand dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant which dwelt in a tent (Psa 132:1-5), but was denied (1Ch 22:8), but his son would be allowed to do so (1Ch 22:9). The question is, "Why is Stephen going here?"
One commentary says that Stephen is giving a type "of how the Lord came to Israel the first time in the tent of a human body (cf. 2Peter 1:13-14), but will return in a body that is so much grander, it will be like the difference between the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon. It goes on to say, "And He will then give Israel the kingdom they refused the first time He came. That illustrates the point Stephen’s been making, that just like Israel wasn’t freed from Egyptian bondage during Moses’ first appearance to Israel, but was on his second appearance, so the Jews didn’t get their kingdom during the Lord’s first visit to Israel, but will at His second." Of course, this is where Stephen began to lose them, because he was saying that God did not dwell in their temple that had been made with hands (v.48) by referencing Isa 66:1-2.
In these verses in Isaiah, God is basically asking, "Where is the place of my rest?" The assumption is that if indeed God needed a resting place, he would not ask man to build it since he could do it on His own (Gen 1:1). Some would say that what Stephen is saying is that God may not dwell in the temples you guys have made, but He does dwell in this man that you crucified (Isa 66:2). Of course, this is where he lost them!
VERSES 51-53: Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. (52) Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: (53) Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. Now he flat accuses them of being stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart. In other words, too hard headed to listen to the truth. Obviously, he saw they crowd beginning to turn on him and knew the time of invitation had passed! No doubt, Stephen's choice of the word stiffnecked brought images of Exo 32:7-10 and Exo 33:5). Unlike far too many in the Body of Christ, the Jews knew their Scriptures. Shocked at how ignorant we are today.
Many commentators will say that Stephen's entire message was a defense, no, it was an idictment from beginning to end. Stephen had done exactly what Peter had done in Acts 5:28. Also, as Randy White points out, Stephen was not practicing evangelism as we know it in these verses either. It was pure condemnation of them and their actions. Of course, just like with the messages of Peter, had the nation repented, the Kingdom would have come.
Now, I have found that there is some disagreement in regards to that last statement about the coming Kingdom. Shouldn't the Tribulation take place first? I believe so, but some would say that the Time of Jacob's Trouble was conditional upon their repentance. Um, still working on that supposition.
Notice in v.53 where it says Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. In other words, even though God and the heavenly hosts gave you the Law, you still have not kept it. Again, nothing but condemnation. They lost it!